End Treeless Asphalt Deserts Downtown
Central City 2035 Key Element
Last year, as part of its Comprehensive Plan update process, Portland City Council passed CC 2035, an updated plan for the central city. The Key Elements of this plan give interested residents strong footing to address the surface parking lots in downtown’s West End as the fourth key element is: 4. Redevelopment. Encourage new development on surface parking lots and vacant lots..
Surface parking lot owners have negatively impacted the health and well-being of downtown residents for far too long. Besides the noise and air pollution that they bring to their neighbors these treeless asphalt deserts are more than 10 degrees hotter than surrounding areas. When it’s 105 degrees and smoky, walking by them for block after block is nearly unbearable–especially for the many downtown residents who use canes and walkers. Take a look at what I’m talking about–bearing in mind that this is DOWNTOWN Portland. . .
You might believe that with current real estate values, they will all be developed soon. But throughout the central city building boom in Portland, this hasn’t happened. In fact, Portland Art Museum’s lot depicted in Images 6 and 7 has been a surface parking lot for 88 years!
In August of 2017, commercial real estate consultant, Brian Owendoff explained to a Portland State University Real Estate class his opinion on why there will be little movement:
1. Land Price too high: very tough to make an apartment or office tower economically viable @ $600 SF for land cost.
2. The Inclusionary Zoning requirement reduces net operating income by 10%, more or less, making apartment development not economically viable.
3. Construction costs are very high due in large part to labor shortages.
All three result in project returns below what is acceptable for institutional investment or third party construction debt.
Except for the fact that some of the owners of the lots (the Goodmans, the Schnitzers and Portland Art Museum) also have the capacity to develop them, Owendoff’s market-based explanation may help explain why we’ve seen no redevelopment of the treeless asphalt deserts during the building boom.. But we can change “the market”!!! I have long suggested as a solution to this problem: the City of Portland should TAX LAND AT A HIGHER RATE THAN BUILDINGS. By taxing land at or near its development potential, owners of land that is used at less than maximum productivity–e.g.,surface parking lots–would be paying a disproportionate amount in taxes in order to keep it that way. See Land Value Tax for Downtown Portland.
Meanwhile, we could require that surface parking lots, while they remain, take a page from Ecotrust parking lot. Owners must install trees and bioswales that manage ALL stormwater onsite. They could even become fun places to hold events.
Let’s demand more from downtown Portland’s surface parking lot owners. Tell City Council that it’s not fair to downtown residents and visitors that owners of surface parking lots help destroy our air and water quality–not to mention temperature and aesthetic quality–with such impunity. You can help end treeless asphalt deserts by developing a vision for what you’d like to see on one of them. Then get your vision out via mainstream and social media. Call the owner and present it to them too. Grab a space on City Council’s agenda and present your vision. And watch for my vision for the Portland Art Museum lot soon!
Published July 9, 2019. Adapted from CC2035 Testimony of Mary Vogel/PlanGreen Sept. 7, 2017
May 22, 2018 I just returned from the 26th Annual Congress of the Congress for the New Urbanism in Savannah, GA where I took the opportunity to go on the “Missing Middle Housing: Found!” walking tour with Savannah architect, Eric Brown, his two young staff members and about two dozen Congress attendees. It was revealing!
As a city that has preserved a great deal of its 285-year history in its buildings and neighborhood layout, Savannah (founded 1733) is an ideal place to understand how what we now call “Missing Middle Housing” was an integral part of the development of our towns and cities in this nation since the 1700s. Duplexes, triplexes, fourplexes along with carriage houses and lane houses coexisted nicely beside single family homes and mansions.
Since the current top priority of the Portland Small Developer Alliance is to get fourplexes allowed as a use by right in all Portland neighborhoods, I will focus on fourplexes first. I believe the images speak for themselves but do read the captions!
While many of Savannah’s row houses from the 1800s came in sets of four, some are in sets of three–as illustrated below. I’m calling this a triplex!
Duplexes were somewhat common too. They came in a variety of forms.
Although many of the English basements serve as ADUs, I found this one off a courtyard that appeared to be a shared space.
Apartment buildings were an occasional part of the scene too.
I saw a number of drivers parallel park on the street while I was taking these photographs. They did not appear to have been circling to find a place as there were empty places on the street–even though I was photographing during “rush hour”.
I hope that the above images make a compelling case that fourplexes, triplexes, duplexes, ADUs and small apartment buildings can fit nicely into a neighborhood. They were certainly part of our early historic heritage–a heritage that I hope we will learn from as we now make single family-only neighborhoods a part of our history–a part of our history that has proved unsustainable. Let’s give our young people the opportunity to share our close-in walkable neighborhoods with housing prices that allow them to thrive. Let’s give our small developers the opportunity to build in ways that make sense for our current desire for 20-minute neighborhoods. The survival of our planet may depend upon it!
FOR PSC COMMISSIONERS READING THIS POST
The following is an amendment proposed by Portland Small Developer Alliance that we would like you to sponsor:
PSC Proposed Amendment to RIP
Allow four housing units on all residentially-zoned lots, by right, if within walking distance along a continuous pedestrian network to transit. Four units is considered by the Federal Housing Administration for mortgage lending to be a “house.” It is common sense to synchronize our zoning regulations with existing federal policy and definition. Given the high cost of land and development in Portland, new single-family houses on full-size lots affordable to average residents cannot be built. Dividing up the costs of site acquisition, design, permitting costs, impact fees, construction, and lending by four units allows the resulting cost per new home constructed to be affordable to a middle-class Portland household. Unit counts have a tiny impact on the surrounding community compared to building scale; within the regulated size of new projects, we should allow more units. Allowing a fourth unit gives us the opportunity to make the units we build more affordable to more people while still maintaining the scale and character of the neighborhoods we all enjoy.
May 8, 2018
Residential Infill Project Testimony to Portland Planning and Sustainability Commission
I’m Mary Vogel of PlanGreen and Portland Small Developer Alliance. I work for the small developers pro bono because I want to see a world where young people have the same opportunity for a livable planet in neighborhoods of their choice that much of my generation has had.
Now, speaking for the group: Our focus is on providing housing opportunity in all neighborhoods across Portland, in a small-scale incremental way that fits in with the surrounding context. So the proposed Residential Infill Project has an immense impact on what we do.
We found that there are some major issues with the RIP proposal that fundamentally work against the stated goals of the project, and aren’t in line with how small-scale infill development works. On the screen are five areas we think are most important to improve before the RIP is adopted.
Please help us implement a market-based solution to HOUSING AFFORDABILITY that we had prior to the vast downzoning to SF of 1959—not just “AFFORDABLE HOUSING” that depends upon a subsidy that’s been shrinking for the last 50 years.
Here’s a link to the YouTube video of the first hearing, testimony begins at 2:25:00.
You can get more talking points to testify to the Planning and Sustainability Commission yourself on May 15 at http://pdxsmalldevelopers.org/news/.
March 8, 2018
Sustainable Stormwater Management: A Landscape-Driven Approach to Planning and Design
by Thomas Liptan, with writer David Santan, Jr
strikes an optimistic note about the future of our cities in an era of climate change:
Indeed, the cities of the future will be garden cities. Not for aesthetics, though beauty will follow as a by-product, but for the energy savings, water management, shelter from extreme heat and precipitation, noise buffers, and perhaps most importantly the habitat and urban wildlife these plants will support. Our cities will come alive with people, plants, and creatures thriving in interdependent coexistences” (p252)
Primary author, Tom Liptan, is hoping to change the nature of urban design itself. As a sustainable cities advocate, such change is a vision that I share.
Liptan adds yet another term to the sustainable stormwater management lexicon: landscape stormwater management. No American city has implemented more of these LSM approaches than Portland, Oregon (where they both live—as does this reviewer). Portland has roughly 7,000 green stormwater facilities in place—including a few in its downtown! They not only manage stormwater, they “conserve water and energy, reduce urban heat island effect and thermal gain in waterways, recharge groundwater supplies, create habitat and support biodiversity, buffer noise, and provide a healthier, more adaptive, more resilient infrastructure”(p18). I will add that they make a walk or bike ride more pleasant and interesting and they are cheaper and more effective than pipes as well!
I first met primary author, landscape architect, Tom Liptan, in the early 90’s when he gave a presentation for a local builders group on green roofs in Europe. He issued a call for us to start applying green roof technology in Portland. Ultimately, Liptan became the Ecoroof Technical Manager in the Sustainable Stormwater Division of the City’s Bureau of Environmental Services (BES). Today we participate together in Portland’s Green Roof Info Thinktank (GRIT). He and I were early advocates for restoring Portland area streams—a movement that gave impetus to the practices in this book.
This book is not just about Portland and its 7,000 LSM facilities. It’s about a design philosophy that puts the water in the landscape rather than storm drains and pipes. And it uses examples of LSM design from all over the world. Although it has lots of information you’d find in a manual: site assessment, site design, construction, inspection, cost considerations, operations and maintenance—it’s style and unusual organization makes it far more interesting than most manuals or handbooks.
As a professional who has long-criticized gizmo green, I appreciate Liptan’s statement that “a good designer relies on principles of design rather than products.” He won my heart when he exhorts us to “look first to native materials and natural systems” and employ “Design with native plants first and foremost.” It’s not immediately apparent to me that many designers in Portland actually do that—so Liptan and I have a lot more exhorting to do. I’m hoping this book and my review will help.
Sustainable Stormwater Management is organized into two major sections: Landscape Stormwater Design: Water Management from a Landscape Architectural Perspective and Landscape Stormwater Management: Vegetative Approaches to Water Management. The four chapters of the first section cover guiding principles, economics, policy and politics and something of an exhortation to the landscape architecture profession that Liptan sees as the potential leaders of this movement.
It is true that landscape architects have a jealously-guarded stranglehold over specifying plants in commercial facilities in Oregon. As a streams and natural areas restoration volunteer and native plant/ecology focused tour leader, I throw up my hands about this stranglehold every time I examine a rain garden or stormwater planter facility in Portland and see mostly over-used, alien ornamental species—some of which are invasive elsewhere. And I’ve spent much time reporting deliberately planted INVASIVE species in the past.
I now advocate that only those trained (formally or informally) in ecological restoration be allowed to design Portland’s stormwater facilities. (Just like most architects get little training in urban design, most landscape architects get little training in plants before they get their credentials—though the latter seems to be a more tightly kept secret.) Liptan admits this later in the book: Addressing the engineering, architecture and landscape architecture disciplines: “Water, soil and plants as stormwater management elements are new territory and we all have a lot to learn”(p249). “Good designers are not born but educated. . .Better education for designers and city review staff can reduce the waste of money and space.” (p250) Portland would do well to reward and learn from those of us who agree with Liptan.
The far longer second section, Landscape Stormwater Management: Vegetative Approaches to Water Management, has most of the data, tables, rules of thumb and cautions that you might find in a manual. But, with its pleas for further research, rallying cries for creative approaches, page-after-page of captioned photos and its call to design with nature using native materials, this book goes beyond a manual.
Chapter 5—Water-Accepting Landscapes—is the chapter that covers Rain Gardens and Stormwater Planters, Green Streets, and Rainwater Harvesting amongst other topics. Liptan barely uses the term bioswale conceding that it is like a long rain garden. Rather he distinguishes between rain gardens with their sloped sides and planters with their vertical structural sides. Besides that there are three types of either system: 1) infiltration landscapes, 2) partial infiltration landscapes, and 3) flow-through landscapes.
Although Liptan devotes only a half page of text under the heading “Green Street” he does have ten pages with captioned photos of green streets. The reader can find more green street commentary in his discussions of Nashville’s Deaderick Street, Seattle’s SEA Street, Ballard (Seattle) Roadside Rain Garden Project, Portland’s Tabor to the River, Halsey Green Street and Headwaters at Tryon Creek projects. In fact much of the latter half of Chapter 5 on Site Design is devoted to making green streets work better—covering such areas as site assessment, sizing, directing flows, plantings and soils, construction, plumbing, cost considerations and operations and maintenance (O&M). (Although I understand “The intent is to focus on the outcome of the approach rather than a specific type of implementation. . .,” I found this organization a bit confusing.)
I’ve long been impressed by Tom Liptan’s minimalist approach: “The ideal LSM design should never need irrigation, pruning, or fertilization.” He cautions that O&M plans must state explicitly how plantings should be managed, otherwise most landscape contractors will default to their standard approach: “Spray it, soak it, mow it, blow it away.” Ninety percent of street planters in Portland are not irrigated—resulting in huge O&M savings. (However, as a Green Street Steward in downtown Portland, last summer I was begging nearby retailers to water the downtown planters I steward so that they wouldn’t lose any more plants.)
Most of Chapter 6—Vegetative (Living) Cover of Impervious Surfaces—is devoted to what Portland
calls ecoroofs, with Liptan using the more generalized term “vegetative roofs” to appeal to a wider audience. However he moves through vegetative walls, vegetative planters, trees, and vines before returning to research on vegetative roofs and then to their design.
He is again minimalist: Simpler vegetative roof designs found in Europe are “as good or better than most North American designs.” I would be disappointed if I didn’t see the Red Cinder Ecoroof design that Liptan developed in Portland. It’s comprised of a moisture mat, soil, and sedums planted in red cinder mulch. It’s low cost, low-maintenance, self-sustaining with no irrigation and adaptable to any roof or membrane system AND it protects the roof membrane, manages stormwater and creates habitat. “The sedums with the red cinder retard colonization by other plants for many years,” maintains Liptan. Some additional recommendations he makes for vegetative roofs: 1) some kind of mineral mulch if not red cinder—for both moisture retention and shading the soil; 2) integrate solar panels on your roof so the plants can benefit from the shade; 3) manage solar reflections on vegetation where possible—one solution is to cover dead plants with a thin layer of rock to protect the soil and perhaps allow some plants to return.
Chapter 7 asks the reader to think about how much impervious surface we really need then moves on to discussing porous pavement, depaving and stream daylighting. Liptan sees a bright future for buried creeks to reappear in our cities proclaiming that “A daylighted stream can be the nexus for the dramatic green transformation of an entire neighborhood.” Both the daylighting and depaving movements have been led for many years by unpaid volunteers who have formed non-profits and enlisted more volunteers to get the work done. I’m glad to see Liptan exhorting design professionals to do more in this arena.
Liptan’s is a captivating vision for change in the way we design/re-design our cities. I hope more designers and advocates too will take to heart a fragment from the book that is going up on my bathroom mirror: “…the door to creativity stands open. Enter unencumbered by the boxes of conformity, and be amazed.”
Mary Vogel is a CNU accredited planner and founder of PlanGreen, a Woman Business Enterprise in Portland, OR that has paddled upstream for years to bring ecosystem services to excellent urban design. After achieving on-the-ground restorations and some important policy accomplishments in several of Portland’s and the region’s long-range plans pro bono, she would like to get paid work—perhaps outside of Oregon where she can best use her skills.
On November 9, the day after what for me was a cataclysmic election, and on most Wednesdays and Thursdays until the end of 2016, I found a haven in Portland City Council meetings. Not only did I take solace in offering testimony myself, but cheering on the testimony of citizens as young as GRADE SCHOOL age. Most of us–certainly the young– wanted Portland to not only continue, but increase its progressive agenda. The last Council accomplished much in those final two months, but there is still plenty left to do. Inspired by former mayoral candidate, Sarah Iannarone, I offer my own TO-DO list for Mayor Ted Wheeler and the new City Council.
In 2017, let’s help the City of Portland continue its leadership on climate change by addressing fossil fuels–both by reducing demand and by limiting their usage, transport and storage in Portland. We also need to divest the city’s money in them¹.
Reducing Demand for Fossil Fuels
- Make every neighborhood more walkable. This includes
- Adopt strong Residential Infill/Missing Middle policy to create the population levels to support the services in each neighborhood that folks want to walk to.
- Adopt Parking Management Policy improvements that help to manage demand–the type sought by Portlanders for Parking Reform and PBOT’s own Citywide Parking Strategy and its proposed Residential Parking Permit Program.
- Strengthen the Central City 2035 Plan re: trees and streetscape adding to the plan wider sidewalks and street trees to make downtown streets more than car sewers for commuters. (BTW, while I appreciate the need to give more focus to East Portland, as Iannarone suggests, the West End of downtown still has a predominantly low-income population, many of whom are people of different ethnic origins and races. And many use walkers or wheelchairs.)
- Insist on a revision of the Portland Art Museum Rothko Pavillion plan seeking to close off Madison Street plaza. Instead, focus on strengthening downtown walkability and resilience–e.g. negotiate a “Madison Walkway” between SW 11th and 12th to break up this superblock. Oppose any other property owner proposing to make downtown less walkable rather than more walkable!
- Since the greenest building is one that is already there, work with the Unreinforced Masonry Building owners in the West End—including the Art Museum—to do seismic upgrades so that fewer buildings need to be replaced after a seismic event. (PAM is not technically a URM, rather brick veneer; however, it was built in the 1930s and has not been seismically upgraded to today’s standards.)
- Phase out the use of studded tires that are the #1 cause of road damage and hence asphalt resurfacing—a very intensive use of fossil fuels. [I know that this is a State issue, but Portland must add this to its Legislative Agenda–see Preserving Oregon’s Roads.
Limiting Fossil Fuel Transport and Storage
Sierra Club and 350 PDX (I’m an active member of both) have played a leadership role here–along with my friends at Center for a Sustainable Economy. I testified at the last Council’s hearings on the no new Fossil Fuel Facilities policy and stand ready to help defend it–and to help Portland get enabling legislation to REQUIRE seismic upgrades on existing fossil fuel storage facilities.
The Housing Crisis
- In the absence of other immediately available options, partner with the member organizations of the Village Coalition to find additional spots where the homeless can self-organize into “tiny house villages”. This way we’ll waste less human energy—releasing it to help in the climate change effort.
- Ban no cause evictions and pursue other tenants’ rights policies in Mayor Wheeler’s Tenants Bill of Rights published during the campaign.
- Support the Community Land Trust concept that seeks to take housing off the private commodity speculative market and put it into public trust. This model gives participants security, equity and legacy in their housing. Over 50 years ago, the founders of the CLT concept saw this as a new model for land tenure in America–not just a band-aid to the system to help the low-income. I’d like to see the City of Portland help its own CLT, Proud Ground, revive the idea that there is a new model of housing for all incomes–one that has a tremendous body of law and practice already established.
Portland needs to nurture the budding activism of the school children and Millennials who gave testimony on a variety of climate-related issues over the past year by re-doubling on its progressive policy. As Tavis Smiley admonishes on PBS “Keep the Faith!”
¹I hope that our efforts will inspire those in other cities–especially Millennials–to work locally to get their own cities do likewise–making those cities more sustainable and resilient too. As much as I value Millennials’ migration to our city, I know we need them more in places where the fight may seem harder.
Mary Vogel is founder and principal of PlanGreen and a downtown neighborhood land use and transportation advocate.
August 6, 2015
When Jordan Weiss set out to use mushrooms to help clean up the soils and filter the water at the former landfill/brownfield site purchased by the Dharma Rain Zen Center (DRZC), he did so based upon the mycoremediation research of others such as Paul Stamets and his team at Fungi Perfecti. He didn’t set up the effort as a research project. He didn’t have funders to answer to as he volunteered his time and even many of the materials. He taught workshops that brought in the volunteer labor from the Zen Center, the Oregon Mycological Society and neighbors and friends.
Now, to take the project to the next level as a mycoremediation model for the Portland area, Jordan and others involved with the project, like myself, would like funding. Funders always want data–not just university lab data or even other people’s field data, but data from the project they are asked to fund. I’m working with Jordan to figure out what baseline data is out there re: water quality and soils and what more data we need to collect to prove that mushrooms are removing toxins on this site and can do so throughout the Portland area.
The Phase I Environmental Site Assessment for the DRZC site is of little help with regard to pollutants in water or stormwater. Essentially, its conclusion was: No analytical testing of shallow groundwater has been reported to ODEQ. In the Phase II ESA, eight soil samples were tested in the area where the food garden is now. High levels of PAHs were found in this soil, causing DRZC to build boxes and import clean soil for vegetable gardening. The area where the raingarden is does not seem to have been tested.
The best place to do future myco-remediation installations may be in the food garden area at the edges of the boxes since that soil had already been tested prior to any mycoremediation efforts, . After the mushrooms get established, DRZC and its partners could continue to test the underlying soils for levels of PAHs. The hypothesis is that the mushrooms and their mycelia will reduce or eliminate the PAHs.
PAHs (such as acenaphthylene’s, anthracene, benzo(g,h,i)perylene, fluorine, phenanthrene and pyrene) are listed by the EPA as possible carcinogens and maximum allowable standards are set for them.
We will want to do stormwater testing too. The Portland Bureau of Environmental Services (BES) Stormwater Management Facility Monitoring Reports for both 2008 and 2010 tell us what water quality data BES monitors for in its stormwater facilities. From the chart in the Appendix of the 2008 report, we see that they monitor for oil, grease, E. coli, metals, total phosphorous and orthophosphate phosphorous, ammonia-nitrogen and nitrate nitrogen in water.
Here’s what they test in the sediments:
That HCID/TPH is a way to screen for PAHs and other petroleum products in the soil. We do know that BES also does separate soil sampling. Some of the latest soil sampling data¹ shows that E-coli and heavy oil levels were higher than the background soil sample sites located nearby–but outside of the stormwater facilities. Metal and PAH levels found in stormwater facilities were generally similar to those found in background sample soils. While these results show that soils in green street stormwater facilities (bioswales, raingardens) are likely taking up E-coli and heavy oil from runoff that would otherwise go down a storm drain, we hope to show that with the use of mushrooms, soil results could be cleaner than the background samples in all categories tested: E-coli, heavy oil, metals and PAHs.
Since the only water sampling that revealed toxins at DRZC was the seep in the northeast corner of the site², our approach for monitoring the raingarden could start with the first rains of Fall 2015. We would largely be monitoring for pollutants from the parking area west of the raingarden. Parking lots are well-known for contaminating stormwater with PAHs when it rains.
The Portland area is fortunate to have a second mycoremediation project underway in our region. In July 2015, I set up a meeting with Clean Water Services Jared Kinnear and Pacific University toxicology professor Deke Gunderson to learn from their project to test mushrooms for cleaning street sweepings. They hope to get the street sweepings–what appears to be the compost I buy in bags at Ace Hardware– to the point that it is judged safe for farmers’ fields. They set up their project in conjunction with Fungi Perfecti which provided both the protocols and the mycelium inoculated wood chips for the research.
The project has evolved from what was originally conceived. Because of time and labor constraints and the preliminary results, the project was modified from the original one that would have tested five species of fungi to just testing Stropharia rugoso annulata (King stropharia) and Pleurotus ostreatus (Oyster mushroom). Then it was narrowed down again when the researchers found that the oyster mycelium stayed on the wood chips rather than spreading throughout the mixture of wood chips and street sweepings.
So they are now testing the ability of King stropharia mycelium to eliminate polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) or at least reduce them to a level that they are safe to spread on farm fields. The levels of PAHs are tested on a chromatograph at Pacific University. Since once the inoculated wood chips were added to the street sweepings, the levels of PAHs were so low that they were difficult to fully measure, the team decided to spike the experimental samples with PAHs in order to measure the effectiveness of the mushrooms.
The EPA has recognized 7 PAHs as priority chemicals due to their persistence in the environment.³ The most common way to be exposed is by breathing contaminated air but exposure can also come from eating contaminated food. While we were there we met one of Dr. Gunderson’s students ,Hailey Jongeward, who has since shared with me her PowerPoint report on the project.
“Of the 7 priority chemicals we found traces of all 7 in the starting material, increasing the importance of this project” she wrote. Those chemicals are: acenaphthylene’s, anthracene, benzo(g,h,i)perylene, fluorine, phenanthrene and pyrene.
Hailey also shared the photos of the subject material to the right. Boxes get different ratios of wood chips to spores so that may account for the difference in the two boxes. Both show that the mycelium is spreading, but the lower one more than the upper one. Hailey also told me she is working in partnership with fellow Pacific University students Jake Prevou and Natalie Kimura.
I believe that the monitoring of the Dharma Rain Zen Center project needs to take on some similar elements as the Clean Water Services project and monitor soils for reduction of PAHs. It would also be useful to test the water flowing into and back out of the raingarden, but that may prove more difficult because it was not designed for doing such testing. Our best bet may be one identified in the Phase II ESA: “a location south of the seep had water discharge from piping, which was traced to a stormwater surface drainage feature.”
It is exciting to be part of the initiation of a technology–or rather a protocol for utilizing an ecosystem service from the seen and unseen mysteries of the natural world. As we enter an era of climate change, such services will become more and more critical for adapting to changes, mitigating the impacts and healing our past wounds to the earth. I want my business, PlanGreen, to be at the forefront of utilizing the services that nature provides for free.
Please see my previous four posts on mycoremediation on http://plangreen.net/blog/. You may want to FOLLOW this site for the latest news. And do post your comments and questions below.
UPDATE, Sept. 21, 2015
Dharma Rain Zen Center started an Indiiegogo campaign http://igg.me/at/PlantingZen/x on Sept. 21, 2015 that allows you to contribute to their restoration and community building work. Your dollars will be matched dollar for dollar. I hope you will help if you can!
¹Bureau of Environmental Services • City of Portland 2010 Stormwater Management Facility Monitoring Report
²Levels of arsenic slightly higher than allowed for drinking water standards was found in the northeast corner seep.
³See fact sheet on PAHs from the EPA Office of Solid Waste at http://www.epa.gov/osw/hazard/wastemin/minimize/factshts/pahs.pdf
Aug 2, 2015
Portland’s Old Town China Town neighborhood has an abundance of surface parking lots. In fact, it has far too many to be a vibrant neighborhood much less an expression of the eco-city that Portland purports to be. I’ve joined with five other professional women to try to change that. If we can’t see these central city lots immediately redeveloped to higher and better uses that house people and businesses, we at least want to see them become better parking lots–SPONGY PARKING LOTS.
My friend, Ruth Ann Barrett coined that term and even made a video about Spongy Parking Lots to share with her neighbors in Old Town/Chinatown. She has friends who visit from California and she’s embarrassed to show them how much we waste water here in Portland. When it rains, the water from those parking lots heats up and captures whatever pollutants vehicles leave behind on its way to the nearest storm sewer. The surface parking lots are paved in asphalt and are major contributors to the urban heat island effect that raises the temperature as much as 10° over areas with open land and vegetation. In turn, the extra heat increases the energy needed to cool interior spaces, and puts an extra strain on the grid by exacerbating peak energy loads and hence carbon footprint/climate change. It also contributes to smog formation adding even more public health impacts resulting from excessive outdoor temperature.
We’ll return to all that in a moment, but I first want you to remember walking on a trail in the woods where your feet just seemed to bounce on the earth beneath them. That’s because that soil was kept porous and, yes, spongy, by the mycelium forming a thick mat that was turning wood to soil under your feet. Those mycelium have fruiting bodies that we call mushrooms–which may or may not be visible during your walk.
That mycelium looks a bit like a very dense spider web criss-crossing to create quite a network. It gets its nutrition by decomposing the cellulose in the log. The ability of mycelium of mushrooms in the category of “white rot fungi” to decompose cellulose is related to their ability to decompose numerous other substances as well: bacterial toxins such as e-coli and fecal coliform as well as polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons(PAHs). Research also shows their ability to transform bunker fuel oil, explosives, polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), and organochlorine pesticides–substances we hope we won’t find in OTCT parking lots.
We do have models for Spongy Parking Lots nearby. My favorite is at the Jean Vollum Natural Capital Center (aka Ecotrust) in the adjacent Pearl District neighborhood. Often on a summer day, the cars are kicked out of this pleasant parking lot for an array of fairs, festivals and farmers’ markets. If you enlarge this photo, you will see that the lot is paved with light colored porous pavers and that those trees are planted in bioswales that also hold an array of mostly native plants. You will see that the parking spaces drain into those bioswales. which are about 2.5 feet deep. Not only do the soils and plants in the bioswales infiltrate the water from the parking lot within 24 hours, they also cool the water and filter the pollutants that come from our vehicles and pets.
What could be better? Well, Portland monitors the effectiveness of its bioswales and some of the latest soil sampling data¹ shows that E-coli and heavy oil results were variable, but levels were higher than the background soil sample sites located nearby but outside of the stormwater facilities. Metal and PAH levels found in stormwater facilities were generally similar to those found in background sample soils. While these results show that soils in bioswales are likely taking up E-coli and heavy oil from runoff that would otherwise go down a storm drain, soil results could be CLEANER THAN THE BACKGROUND SAMPLES in all categories tested: E-coli, heavy oil, metals and PAHs. If mycelium running through the bioswale made the soil spongier and more absorbent and if those same mycelium could help the plants thrive by “eating” more of the pollutants, then I maintain we would have an even spongier parking lot. A spongier parking lot could better utilize and clean the water running off it into bioswales. As its trees and plants grow better with less pollutants in its soil, the spongier parking lot will decrease the urban heat island effect even more and become an important strategy for both mitigating and adapting to climate change.
I hope you will read my previous three short blogs on mycoremediation/mycofiltration (http://plangreen.net/blog) to better understand the technology I am proposing. I plan one more mycoremediation blog on monitoring.
¹Bureau of Environmental Services • City of Portland 2010 Stormwater Management Facility Monitoring Report
Nov. 12, 2013 Guest blog by Carolyn Foster, University of Washington Community Environment & Planning student and Summer 2013 PlanGreen intern
The 19th annual Rail~Volution Conference was hosted by the Puget Sound Region in Seattle, WA on October 20 thru 23, 2013. The conference featured many workshops exploring how we can build livable communities through transit. This is especially important to the Puget Sound Region because they are anticipating 1.2 million more residents by 2030. To accommodate this, the region must plan for density in urban growth centers and make smart investments in transportation.
Because PlanGreen principal, Mary Vogel, urged me to apply promptly as soon as she got notice from Rail-Volution, I was privileged to receive a scholarship to this conference. The first workshop I attended was “Rail~Volution 101” intended for first time attendees. One of the speakers was Earl Blumenauer, Congressman of Oregon’s Third District, who has notable experience with working towards livable communities. He founded Portland’s Regional Rail Summit in 1991 which eventually became the Rail~Volution conference in 1995. He spoke of the importance of citizen infrastructure in making a successful light rail system. In Portland, he funded a transportation class to allow citizens to work with the Portland transportation agencies to implement their own community projects. This is still happening! To him, strengthening this citizen infrastructure is a key to success. Learn more at portlandtransport.com.
Another speaker at the “Rail~Volution 101” workshop, G.B. Harrington, of G.B. Placemaking in Portland introduced me to the concept of Transit Oriented Development versus Transit Adjacent Development. He argued that it is not enough for development to be by transit, but it must be shaped by transit. Other speakers at this workshop included the Executive Director of the Honolulu Authority for Rapid Transportation, and the Mayor of Normal, Illinois. They excitedly shared projects that had been accomplished in their town to make their communities more livable. What particularly struck me was when the mayor of Normal explained how the addition of a roundabout fixed a bad traffic snarl. To me, this displays the power of incrementalsim to solve urban issues. To learn more about the project in Normal, visit normal.org
The second workshop I attended was titled “Design Matters.” The panel consisted of a planner, an architect, and a landscape architect. The planner, William Anderson, of San Diego, urged everyone involved in a project to “leave their discipline ego behind” in favor of effective collaboration and problem solving. Jeff Potter, architect from Dallas, TX, argued that “place is not designed, it is experienced.” William also argued the importance of making seamless connections to neighborhoods through transit to avoid making a community “just a place to pass through.” All panelists spoke to the important of context specific design that gives a place a sense of unique identity.
Tuesday night was the Pecha Kucha Slam, described as “cutting edge ideas presented rapid-fire.
20 slides x 20 seconds = less than 7 minutes per topic.” 12 professionals presented a wide variety of topics from developing airports to keeping your employees healthy and fit. There was also a range of presentation styles: from serious to satirical to downright silly. Terra Lingley, Transportation Planner at CH2M Hill in Portland presented about Portland’s Streetcar Mobile Musicfest where local bands perform on the streetcars for free (except you still have to pay the streetcar fare). This was a big hit with the crowd!
I was connected with a mentor, Circe Torruellas, of the Washington DC Department of Transportation. She shared with me her experience with transit planning in our nation’s capital. She also introduced me to people she knows in Portland who were at the conference including Art Pearce, of the Portland Bureau of Transportation.
At the conference, I networked, had fun, and learned many things, including some information that went over my head such as the details surrounding how to finance Transit Oriented Development. There is a wealth of information about the conference on their website: railvolution.org including a list of attendees and some webcasted sessions. My experience at the conference has made me very excited to continue down the path to be an urban planner.
City Creek Center as Biodiversity Engine?
June 2013 – City Creek Center was started in 2003 by the real estate investment arm of the Latter Day Saints. The intent was to bring back Salt Lake City’s Main Street in a downtown that was losing out to the suburbs. It’s a mixed-use project that includes retail shops, office space and 435 condominiums and 110 apartments. No public subsidy was received so the project does not include “affordable housing.”
It’s also a green roof project in that its 90,000 square feet of plantings, courtyards, roof gardens and water features cover a 6000 space parking structure. What a waterproofing challenge!
“The things the LDS Church is doing with City Creek Center are going to be a positive boost to walkability and transit in Utah” according to “Faith in Action: Communities of Faith Bring Hope for the Planet,” a national report of the Sierra Club. The Center brought more residents, employees, shoppers and diners to use the light rail system called TRAX.
Opening in 2012, with final touches added in 2013, this downtown revitalization project took 10 years to complete. With development continuing throughout the crash in real estate, it was one of the only privately-funded projects of its size in the US that continued to build over the last few years. I happened to meet the Portland-based ZGF architect who was their project manager for the residential portion this week (at an event in Portland, first week of June 2013) and she confirmed how important this project was to her firm. It also kept 2000 others employed throughout the development cycle and now employs over 7000 people. It had about 16 million visitors in its first year of operation.
You can read more about the economic development aspects of City Creek Center elsewhere e.g., Salt Lake Tribune. What I’m going to look at here is what role City Creek Center plays in putting Salt Lake City on the path to becoming the engine of biodiversity that Richard Louv exhorted CNU 21 attendees to work towards in our work.
City Creek Center was actually in the middle of my route to and from the Grand America Hotel where CNU21 was held from May 29 to June 1, 2013. Even though I’m NOT a fan of shopping centers, once I saw the creek there, I happily sauntered through it every day of my five-day stay. It gave me a taste of what I was missing in the nearby canyons as I made my way to The Grand America each day. The creek stimulated for me feelings of peacefulness—and a desire to get out into the real thing.
I recognized immediately the trees native to this area: Populus tremuloides – aspen; Betulae occidentalis – water birch; and Prunus virginiana – chokecherry. They were planted along a lovely creek that bubbled through boulders of native sandstone. Below the canopy level, there were native sedges and rushes and shrubs– and a few plants I didn’t recognize as native. Tough non-native shrubs were brought in to overcome the trampling the natives were experiencing.
I appreciated the fact that the developers named this center after a natural feature that used to be there—AND that they made an extraordinary attempt to re-create that natural feature in their development. The creek flows across three city blocks, and drops 37 feet in elevation from beginning to end. Some 600 boulders were brought in from an area near Park City and 627 native trees from nurseries in Oregon and Idaho.
As it meanders along pedestrian walkways and cafes, the recreated creek features three waterfalls and a fountain with 50-foot-high jets. The creek varies in width from one foot to 28 feet and from four inches to 18 inches in depth. Some parts of the creek were stocked with Bonneville cutthroat trout and rainbow trout and those fish are now reproducing.
A 17-foot waterfall at Regent Court cascades at 2,500 gallons per minute over 14 ton Utah sandstone boulders. The landscape is actually comprised of 13 different water features that recirculate their potable water. According to Ross Nadeau, Landscape Architect project manager, “We looked at utilizing City Creek itself and then at the de-watering water from the site, but we couldn’t make either work because of the filtration costs.”
City Creek Center received a LEED ND rating of Silver for its multiple efforts to be sustainable. “The heart and namesake of our development is the re-creation of City Creek, which many years ago used to run through the downtown area of Salt Lake City,” said Val Fagre, former City Creek Reserve project manager—now retired. The craftsmanship put into building the creek is extraordinary. And I can vouch that the creek serves as a draw for shoppers, employees and residents of City Creek Center. In the two times I ate at the Food Court there, I went to extra effort to sit near the creek. The Center also seems to attract plenty of young people to hang out on Friday and Saturday nights.
Nearby, City Creek Canyon has been protected from the beginning of the city’s history (over 150 years) to protect drinking water and wildlife habitat. According to students in a class project in General Ecology at Westminster College:
By learning the names of the native trees and shrubs that support the wildlife in City Creek Canyon along the nature trail loop, one can see which plants may be useful in backyard landscaping. Native plants introduced into the urban landscape around houses and yards help wildlife to survive in the city and help conserve water.
Based upon the students’ observations (I didn’t get there), City Creek Canyon could qualify as an engine of biodiversity. But could City Creek Center qualify?
I missed the small signs that interpret the plants and fish of City Creek Center so it was not apparent to me how it was being used to influence further biodiversity–but the signage is there. Does the experience of being in a pleasant environment lead people to go home and attempt to mimic what they saw while shopping or dining? Perhaps the center could be more proactive and run some “naturescaping” classes and host some native plant sales by local groups. The project I would most like to see is for City Creek Preserve to work with the City’s Department of Parks and Public Lands to restore City Creek Park, to a more natural condition making it a better gateway to City Creek Canyon. A stream buffer and wetlands could be quite important there to prevent or alleviate flooding in the future, e.g., heavy snow melt flooded State Street in 1983. The City is already undertaking some watershed restoration projects funded by Chevron as mitigation for an oil spill. Hopefully, it won’t take such a negative event for City Creek Preserve to offer such assistance in order to increase its role as a biodiversity engine.
The boulders came from Brown’s Canyon quarry, a 100 year-old business near Park City. Does that quarry have a biodiversity management plan (a BMP for quarries developed by World Wildlife Fund)? If not, what role should City Creek Preserve play in suggesting they start one? Of course, such a suggestion would carry more weight before the stone was purchased.
The developers took their project through the pilot phase of LEED ND. But did they consider Sustainable Sites, a system focused on measuring and rewarding a project that protects, restores and regenerates ecosystem services – benefits provided by natural ecosystems such as cleaning air and water, climate regulation and human health benefits.
I believe City Creek Center would score well in the “Human Health & Well-being” category. But I’m still concerned about all of the water and power used in this engineered ecosystem. Tell us what you think below: Does City Creek Center pass muster as a biodiversity engine for Salt Lake City? Why or why not?